“I don’t know what’s more exhausting about parenting; the getting up early, or acting like you know what you’re doing.” ~ Jim Gaffigan ~
Parenting four kids while trying to keep my identity and sanity is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. It wasn’t drugs, or sex, or rock and roll that inspired Ozzy Osbourne to declare “I’m going off the rails on a crazy train,” but rather, trying to manage his own life and parent two young children at the time. I don’t know if this is true, but as a mother of four, I’m going to go ahead and assume this is at least part of the reason he and guitarist Randy Rhoads wrote the 1980 hit.
Okay actually, the song is about the cold war with Russian and the fear of annihilation that existed during this period. Crazy was used as a synonym for the fear of mutually assured destruction (or MAD) that would occur if Russia shot their nukes at us and we shot ours right back.
Isn’t this sort of exactly what parenting feels like most days? Kids can be irrational, crazy, wild, selfish and daily challenge our limits and temper. Some days, it doesn’t take much for a kid to go bananas and for us to just lose it right back, blowing up the peaceful home in the process.
I have heard people say there are two experiences in life one cannot possibly understand unless you’ve lived it, war and parenthood. I’m not saying the two are comparable, but simply that the experience of each is so unique, profound, and deeply personal that until you walk in those shoes, you will never be able to fully understand it. I have not been in combat, but I can personally attest to the fact that this parenting gig is absolutely nothing like what I thought I signed up for.
Parenting is Hard
First, babies are crazy hard. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me babies are really, really, hard? I mean, maybe somebody did, but I don’t recall ever hearing the warnings. As an expectant mom, all I could think about was chubby cheeks and gummy smiles. My baby would be a heaven sent angel and any challenges I would easily overcome. My biggest concern during the planning months was finding the perfect quilt for his crib (a quilt he could never use of course, because I was a good mother who didn’t want to kill him with deadly blankets).
Feeding a baby was harder than I thought. I was a cow. I felt like a cow, looked like a cow, and probably smelled like a cow.
Trying to get a baby to sleep more than 2 consecutive hours was akin to running a marathon each and every night, except it was a marathon I had not trained for. I limped my weary body across the finish line by dawn each morning, exhausted and disheveled. There was no time to recover from the previous night’s race before it began again.
The first year was unbelievably hard. Sleep training, introducing solid foods and utensils, crawling, baby proofing, walking, and a million other things I never would have guessed you actually needed to help babies learn. I had no idea it would be so damn hard to teach a child to drink from a sippy cup.
And this is just the first year! We can’t forget the horror that is potty training. Runny noses, weird rashes, stomach bugs, the hard just goes on and on and on. Then it’s preparing to send them off to school, into the real world where ghastly dangers exist in shadowed corners, child abductors and bullies and germs! Letters, colors, numbers, shapes, manners, sharing…teachable moments are everywhere and you better be guiding them, reading to them, and managing screen time limits! Homework, activities, sports and lessons now begin. It is all so hard.
And then you have another baby, and if you’re crazy like me you have 3 more babies in the span of 5 years. Now all of this hard is multiplied and overlapping and everyone is competing for your attention and time and energy and the hard you thought life was before seems like a vacation compared to the hard that now controls each day.
Do not even get me started on the teenage years. No seriously, I don’t have a teenager yet so I’m just going to stick my head in the sand again and pretend that hormone fueled shit storm will never hit our house.
Parenting is Lonely
For the last decade I have been buried in children. Four loud and sticky and chatty children are constantly underfoot. There is never silence in my home. There is, however, near perpetual pounding of chubby feet against wood floors (there is no pitter patter, only pounding), shrieks of joy or shrieks of anger, the crash of toppled legos, and hails from toilets for butt wiping aid. My days are not my own. Over 80% of my waking hours, are spent surrounded by constant chatter, incessant rambling, steady whining and vehement negotiating. I am never alone, and yet, I am profoundly lonely.
Despite the constant company of my 4 kids, despite an amazing husband, despite helpful parents and in-laws, despite support and advantages many parents only dream of, I feel utterly alone most days. I miss simple chit chat with co-workers, I miss the time I had to invest in friendships, I miss having more to converse with my husband about than the latest kid-tastrophy or pressing household issue. I miss having time in my brain to think about myself or just about anything that doesn’t revolve around these four walls.
The hunters and gatherer we learned about in Social Studies lived with family and tribes. It used to take an actual village to raise babies, generations of women supporting and helping one another. Today many of us are on our own. Parents and siblings often live across the country and friends are busy leading their own lives.
Social media, forums, and chat groups do provide some sense of community, but often those connections fill our relationship tank with Twinkies and Kool-Aid instead of the nutrient dense, real friendships our souls crave. A keyboard connection cannot show up at your door with a Starbucks on a random Tuesday, grab the colicky baby, and instruct you to go relax for an hour. Although this has never happened to me in real life either, which is why I am so damn lonely.
Parenting Makes Me Angry
I yell. I lose my temper. I say things in anger I regret. I cry in frustration. I lock myself in the bathroom to get control of my emotions. Somedays I feel like I will boil over with rage. Other days resentment simmers silently under the lid of self control, but regardless, the anger is there. I’m not sure why I am so mad, I have nothing, absolutely nothing to be genuinely upset about and yet over these last ten years, this emotion has been the most unexpected and difficult one to battle.
From day one, I bought into the lie that the mother who sacrifices the most of herself wins. I’ve spent nearly a decade believing the best thing I could do for my children is put them first. A good mother should leave the workforce. A good mother’s baby should never cry. A good mother should sacrifice everything. A good mother is selfless. As New York Times Best selling author and activist Glennon Doyle so profoundly points out,
“From the time we’re born, what is the highest compliment our culture can bestow upon women? She’s so selfless. Let’s think about that for a minute. The ultimate compliment for a woman is that you do not even have a self! Then we get to this age where we can’t find ourselves anymore and we wonder why.”
Of course we are angry! We give and give and give and kids take and take and take. When you give 100% of yourself to anything, when you spend days (and years) performing unseen tasks and serving thankless children, it’s impossible not to become resentful. At least for me it was.
Yes I am raising my kids to help out, they have responsibilities, we model gratitude and are working to teach them how to not be self-centered, but young children are naturally selfish. For many years, at least the first 6 or 7, their world really does revolve around what they want and need, and that’s okay. Despite understanding this, despite knowing how much they absolutely do need us and how they aren’t really capable of appreciating us, it is still hard not to become resentful. Most days leave me angry, resentful, and exhausted. It is a daily struggle to avoid becoming a martyr in my marriage and an angry, bitter mother.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Here’s the deal. We all know parenting is worth the hard, the lonely and the anger. I don’t need to tell you about the good. Everyone is really good at pointing out the good and of course, you already know about the good. Tight squeezes around your neck from chubby arms, “I love you mommy”s from squeaky voices, and dark lashes against porcelain cheeks. Nothing beats the beauty of a sleeping baby. I’ve always said my kids are my favorite when they’re unconscious.
We need to get better about acknowledging and admitting sometimes parenting is brutal.
We need to talk more open and honestly about our own struggles so others will know they aren’t alone.
We need to stop worrying about appearing to have our shit together and just admit we’re all hanging on by a thread most days.
Yes, parenthood is hard, but remember everything worthwhile usually is. Release expectations and guilt that prevents you from making the most of it and know your best is absolutely more than enough.
Do you agree parenting is harder than you thought? Do you also struggle with feeling lonely and angry? What is the biggest parenting surprise you learned after having kids?